[B-Greek] The use of πρός in John

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Wed Jun 1 14:19:32 EDT 2011


On Jun 1, 2011, at 1:49 PM, Joe Theranger wrote:

> I have a question about the opening sentence in John's gospel.
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> Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν
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> I was wondering why the word πρός. There seem to be a number of prepositions in Greek that seem to all mean "with" but, based on what I have seen, they each seem to have a different connotation and I would like to ping this group to see if they can add some light.
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> σύν                  This word for with seems to have the basic meaning of “same as”.  While there is much debate on this issue, there is at least one notion that Indo-European languages had two words for the concept of “one”.  There is the word “one” meaning unique.  It is seen in the word unique itself since the Latin number one (unus,a,um) is the root of the word unique.  There is also a root that is something like “sem” which basically means “one and the same”.  It can be seen in the Latin words semel and simul.  It can also be seen in the Greek word for one εἳς, μία,ἓν which used to be σέμς, σ*μία, σέμ.  In other words, the Greek number one seems to derive from the same root as semel and simul in Latin.  The idea is that σύν is related to this root and means “with” in the sense of “the same as”.
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> μετά                The idea is that this word, as is the case with παρά and πρός (see below) means “with” in the sense of location.  The suggestion is that the basic IE root of this word is the same as the “med” as seen in the Latin medius.  If that is true this word means “with” in the sense of “in the middle of” or “together with a bunch of others”
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> παρά               This word seems to mean “with” in the sense of “along side of”.  
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> πρός                The information I found on this seems to indicate that the location meaning in this word is “in front of and facing away from”, the root being προ-.
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> I was wondering why John chose πρός as the word describing the relationship between the Father and the Son.  I can speculate that John is trying to show Jesus and the Logos in sort of a Greek way, the Logos projecting forth, continuously being generated by the Father from before all time and creation.  I think Philo, the Alexandrian Jew, whose view of the Logos was almost Christian, might agree with this. I checked the Latin translation of John’s gospel and found that it had an equally hard to figure out word, apud.  I have been unable to find a root word for the Latin preposition apud.  The closest I could come was ap- which means away from (Greek áπό)  and that seems to make little sense in this context.
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> Does anyone have any insight on why John chose the word πρός to describe the relationship between the Father and the Son?  Is “with” the best translation of the word?
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> BTW, the source for the speculation of the root meanings of σύν, μετά, παρά and πρός can be found in New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin by Andrew L. Sihler.

A good book, Sihler. I don't really disagree with anything Sihler has to say, but I think I might aproach the question differently, albeit also in terms of provenance.

For one thing, πρὸ PRO, πρὸς PROS, and παρὰ PARA are variant forms of the same consonantal root form:

πρὸ PRO seems essentially adverbial in the sense of "in front" "in the van"; it has comparative and superlative forms: πρότερος/α/ον PROTEROS/A/ON and πρῶτος/η/ον PRWTOS/H/ON meaning respectively "more to the front" and "frontmost."

πρὸς PROS is a form of πρὸ PRO with the directional suffix -σ -S appended, just as εἰς EIS is a form of ἐν EN with the directional suffix -σ -S appended. PROS means "forward to" or "facing toward"

Finally παρὰ PARA means something like "in the presence of"; with a genitive it means "from the presence of", with a dative it means "situated in the presence of," while with an accusative it means "alongside" or "passing to or along"

These are all approximations; one really needs to do a word study of the examples for different usages cited in an unabridged lexicon. The upshot of this all, in my thinking (I can't promise that my thinking is the same as that of John the evangelist), is that I would have chosen PROS because it means "facing" or "face to face with."


Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)





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